Refugee crisis can, and must, be solved by Syria’s neighbors

Refugee crisis can, and must, be solved by Syria’s neighbors
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In the decades following World War II, the world witnessed the greatest movement of populations in history. War refugees from displaced persons camps in Europe were helped to begin life anew in other countries and on other continents. Massive population exchanges in Asia were often bloody and brutal, when the new countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh were created as Muslim states and India achieved independence, its population majority Hindu. At the same time, the Jewish state of Israel achieved independence and rose to the challenge of accepting refugees from neighboring Arab countries, from Yemen to Morocco to Egypt.

With one singular exception, all people who were refugees in the second half of the 20th century have long been settled and integrated in their new countries. The one exception, which has been allowed to languish and be used as a political pawn, is Palestine. This was done with the connivance of the United Nations and the Arab League. We don’t want to see similar manipulation and mishandling of today’s Middle East refugees, with Syrians fleeing the horrors of four years of civil war and
terror. 

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Most Syrian refugees find themselves in Turkey or Jordan, where every aspect of life is extremely difficult. Those who arrive with savings are permitted to live in the cities, such as Amman, where food and other expenses are high. Because they are not permitted to work, they soon spend their savings. When the refugee families’ funds are gone, their only choice is to move into a refugee camp and live on U.N. food vouchers. Many are now housed in refugee camps, such as the one I visited, the Azraq refugee camp.

The Azraq camp is located in a bleak and deserted stretch of desert that was built to house Iraqis and Kuwaiti Gulf war refugees. First opening in 2014, the United Nations and Jordan built Azraq with the
capacity to hold 130,000 residents, which would have made it the largest refugee camp in the region. Today it is nearly empty, with a population of around 27,000 residents. 

Is the camp nearly empty because the authorities have been so efficient in resettling those refugees? Quite the contrary! Conditions in Azraq, and the failure of Arab nations to receive refugees, have led to the refugees’ desperate flight in unsafe boats to Europe.

Here is a picture of life in Azraq: The camp is a bleak expanse of row after row of white sheet metal shelters. There is no electricity or air conditioning or heat against the scalding desert summer temperatures or cold winds of winter. Lack of electricity adds further hardship, as people are forced to choose between having light to see their way to the bathroom at night (six shelters share one bathroom) and charging their cellphones, which connects them to family and the outside world.

Despite the fact that refugees are in host countries that share their language, culture, ethnicity and religion, they are not helped to integrate into those countries, or into the many neighboring Arab, Muslim countries. Many refugees are educated professionals; many have other skills and occupations. But they are not allowed to work, and their children do not attend schools.

No wonder they want to leave! And they have, in droves — some preferring to take their chances back in Syria.

The media has focused on Europe and the United States’s willingness or unwillingness to welcome these refugees. This focus is all wrong. The solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is with Syria’s neighbors.

Syrian refugee resettlement should be concentrated in Arab countries, which are in the best position to help. The rich Persian Gulf states — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates — have the resources to provide services that refugees require. With no language barrier and no religious or cultural gaps to overcome, refugees can find new and fulfilling lives with only enough support to make the transition. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other refugee aid organizations can best use their resources to train these Gulf states to provide housing and social services effectively.

Syrians have a reputation as being very hard working, determined people, which should only enhance the overall economic health of the neighboring Arab countries that accept and integrate them into the general population. The humanitarian crisis presented by the fleeing Syrian refugees can be addressed if the nations of the world with resources would provide financial and material support to the aforementioned countries as well as encouragement. There is much beauty in Syria, and I suspect that many displaced Syrians will return there when peace is restored.

This is a forward-thinking and wise strategy.

Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, is a candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination.